The Dark | A sermon on Job 38:1,12-21; 40:1-5
A sermon preached at Virginia Theological Seminary on Friday, October 5, 2018.
Lazlo was afraid of the dark.
So begins an inspired and suspenseful book in which a young boy, utterly alone in a cavernous house, will be forced to confront a common childhood fear.
On the book’s first page, Lazlo, a solemn child in grey pajamas, plays with toys under a large, curtain-less window. Outside, the sun is setting. Inside, Lazlo side-eyes the dark which creeps slowly across the page.
“The dark lived in the same house as Lazlo,” the author writes, “a big place with a creaky roof, smooth, cold windows, and several sets of stairs. . . . All day long the dark would wait in a distant corner . . . pressed up against some old, damp boxes and a chest of drawers nobody ever opened. At night, of course, the dark went out and spread itself against the windows and doors of Lazlo’s house. But in the morning the dark would be back in the basement, where it belonged.”
As the story unfolds, the pressing nature of Lazlo’s fear grows clearer and a certain anticipation of what is to come stirs in the gut. At some point, the reader grows to understand what Lazlo seems to know already. The dark, not merely a concept to be feared but a living, palpable and present thing, is kept at bay only by time.
There is, it feels, an unfairly thin line between darkness and light.
And, Lazlo is suspended there, as he settles down for bed under the warm glow of a single night light. In a moment that is both expected, and yet unsettling, the bulb extinguishes and darkness falls over the scene.
Fear of the dark in childhood is viewed as a normal part of development, yet even as adults a certain fear of the dark still plagues us. Studies show that we often fear the dark for its lack of any visual stimuli. Put simply, people become afraid when they cannot see what is around them. Children, in the absence of light, fear monsters that may lurk in corners or lie in wait in closets -they fear that they are not alone in the dark. Adults, well, we often fear the opposite. We fear that we are, ultimately, alone.
In other words, where Lazlo fears what he cannot see, Job, at the point in which we encounter him this morning, likely fears that there is nothing left to see.
In the beginning, Job aptly dubbed “the poorest, the most solitary man on earth,” basks in the light. He possesses everything, including his own blamelessness. But the presence of light necessarily engages darkness. Darkness lurks in the corners of Job’s well-lit existence. And, over the course of 37 chapters, suspense builds as the dark creeps up on Job slowly from across the page. His flocks are stolen, his children killed, his health ruined. Every framework for ordering the world, gone. Every point of understanding that formerly shed light on the ways of God, extinguished. Darkness falls over the scene.
Let us return now to young Lazlo, who, sitting upright in bed, eyes stretched wide against the darkness, hears a voice. “Lazlo,” it calls. “Lazlo, I want to show you something.” The dark is speaking to Lazlo. In a deliciously tense sequence, we discover that the dark wants to show Lazlo something. Something in the basement. Something in the deepest, darkest, most forgotten part of the basement. Something that Lazlo needs.
Lazlo heeds the call of the dark. Draws closer to it. Moves slowly, carefully, curiously. Descends down the basement stairs into total darkness. The very place where the Dark dwells. It is there that he is shown the light. It is a small lightbulb to be exact, of just the right size for Lazlo’s extinguished nightlight. It is small, and yet not insignificant, for it casts the light of a new vision. The dark will be forever present. And yet, something glorious and inescapable dwells there in the darkness. Something wholly other and yet completely for him.
Lazlo’s tale concludes, “The dark kept on living with Laszlo, but it never bothered him again.”
There is no stopping the darkness really. And yet, there is a truth that those who have stumbled through the dark and found God there just know. We have no control over the inevitable. As sure as the sun will set, night will fall. As sure as there are night lights, bulbs will extinguish. As sure as a baby will be born, one will die. As sure as joy will come, there will also be sorrow. And yet all of it. All of it. Is contained within the One who created us. Yes, something glorious and inescapable dwells there in the darkness. Something wholly other and yet completely for us.
Thanks Be To God.
*The above image is taken from Lemony Snicket’s, “The Dark,” which was illustrated by Jon Klassen.